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Updated on October 7, 2014

Roman Emperor Caligula

Without a doubt, Caligula is known as one of, if not the, most despicable tyrants ever to serve as emperor of the Roman Empire. Although his reign is earmarked by cruelty, extravagance, and sexual perversity, it did not begin that way. Caligula was hailed when he first came to power, however after a serious illness, he slowly and steadily fell into the grips of madness.

Public domain image courtesy Wikipedia

Public domain photo courtesy Wikimedia

Early Reign

The first several months of Caligula's leadership was a celebration for two main reasons. Firstly, he succeeded the very unpopular Tiberius, and secondly, he was the son of the much beloved Germanicus. Caligula's first acts were generally kind in nature, as he destroyed Tiberius' treason papers, declaring that treason trials were now done with and recalled the related exiles. He also helped those who had been harmed by the Imperial tax system, and put on lavish spectacles for the public, such as the well-known gladiator battles.

Caligula also spearheaded political and public reform. He published the accounts of public funds, which had not been made available during the days of Tiberius. He helped those who lost property in fires, abolished certain taxes, and gave out prizes to the at gymnastic events. He also allowed new members into the Senate. In addition, he restored the practice of democratic elections.

Caligula on DVD

caligula movie gallery
caligula movie gallery

This colorized bust of Caligula shows the emperor at approximately 26 years of age.

Creative Commons photo courtesy Wikimedia/MatthiasKabel


Less than one year after taking the throne, Caligula fell very ill. His popularity was so vast that his illness caused great distress that reached throughout the entire empire. Caligula would recover, however he was no longer the same man. Rome would soon find itself living in a nightmare.

Caligula's illness caused him severe insomnia, that aided his behavior to become ever more unbalanced. Seeing the Emperor ordering an altar to be built to himself caused great concern to the Romans. Caligula's excesses were endless, as he introduced stiff taxation to help pay for his personal luxuries. These occurrences naturally alarmed the senate, as there was now no doubt that the Emperor of Rome was now in fact, a dangerous madman.

Confirming their worst fears, in AD 39 Caligula announced the revival of the treason trials, the bloodthirsty trials which had terrorized the latter years of Tiberius' reign.

Caligula Quote (about the Roman people)

"Let them hate us so long as they fear us." - Caligula.Quote via The National

Caligula Movie Scenes

Baby Boots

Clearly the popular Germanicus did not realize that his son Caligula would be the most depraved monster to occupy the imperial throne. Germanicus' own troops nicknamed the young boy Caligula, which means "baby boots", a part of his miniature soldier's uniform.

Creative Commons photo courtesy Wikipedia/Louis le Grand


Emperor Caligula's actions as were described as being particularly tough on the Senate, and they granted him high honors for his imaginary military victories in an effort to appease the growingly insane emperor. After several failed attempts to assassinate Caligula, a successful plan was eventually hatched by officers within the Praetorian Guard led by Cassius Chaerea.

On January 24, 41, Cassius Chaerea, along with two military colleagues cornered the emperor in his palace. The trio killed Claigula by stabbing him some thirty times.Some of his German personal guards rushed to his aid but arrived too late. Several Praetorians then swept through the palace seeking to kill any surviving relatives. Caligula's fourth wife Caesonia was stabbed to death, her baby daughter's skull smashed against a wall.

The Senate attempted to use Caligula's death as an opportunity to restore the Republic. Claudius became emperor after securing the support of the Praetorian guard and ordered the immediate execution of Chaerea and all other known conspirators involved in Caligula's death. The reign of Claudius would prove to be a much more civil and productive one.

This 1647 painting by Eustache Le Sueur is entitled "Caligula Depositing the Ashes of his Mother and Brother in the Tomb of his Ancestors"

Public domain image courtesy Wikipedia

Caligula Poll

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This gold coin with the likeness of Caligula sold for $16,000 in early 2010. Many coins featuring the portrait of the emperor are quite valuable and rare. This is mainly because following the death of Caligula the Senate demonetized his coinage, and ordered that they be melted.

Public domain photo courtesy Wikimedia

Caligula Documentary Clip - From the Discovery Channel. Part one of two.

Caligula Documentary Clip - From the Discovery Channel. Part two of two.

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    • profile image

      MarcellaCarlton 4 years ago

      Enjoyed your article. Sounds like a bad character.

    • profile image

      RomeFan 4 years ago

      I like how you did this lens. It's jump-packed with information yet still pleasing to read. I am really a huge fan of Rome since my childhood years. I have written a lot of articles about Rome but I have not meet Roman Emperor Caligula yet. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Loretta L profile image

      Loretta Livingstone 4 years ago from Chilterns, UK.

      What an interesting and unusual lens.

    • steadytracker lm profile image

      steadytracker lm 4 years ago

      A very interesting and informative lens. Thanks for taking the time to hare this information with us.

    • bofirebear profile image

      bofirebear 5 years ago

      Very good lenses. He definitely was one of the bad ones.

    • profile image

      JoshK47 5 years ago

      Such an interesting, if depraved, historical figure.

    • Phillyfreeze profile image

      Ronald Tucker 5 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky

      Caligula's depravity is well documented and after seeing an adult film chronicling his sexual perversions, one can easily see why this Roman Emperor is so vilified. Very educational and entertaining lens.

    • Phillyfreeze profile image

      Ronald Tucker 5 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky

      Caligula's depravity is well documented and after seeing an adult film chronicling his sexual perversions, one can easily see why this Roman Emperor is so vilified. Very educational and entertaining lens.

    • profile image

      webscan 5 years ago

      His illness changed him?

    • profile image

      JamesDWilson 5 years ago

      Good idea for a lens, and some great info. Caligula was a completely crazy guy toward the end, and a thoroughly nasty chap.

    • MrsKatieE LM profile image

      MrsKatieE LM 5 years ago

      This was a wonderfully concise look at Caligula. I am forwarding this lens on to a friend of mine who will be teaching the Claudian emperors this fall. His freshmen will love it. Thanks for the high quality content and all the great links!

    • jmchaconne profile image

      jmchaconne 5 years ago

      This is a really fascinating lens. I'm just starting, and it is helpful. Thank you!

    • MarkHansen profile image

      MarkHansen 6 years ago

      Glad the Roman Empire collapsed.

    • Zut Moon profile image

      Zut Moon 6 years ago


    • nyclittleitaly profile image

      nyclittleitaly 6 years ago

      He was a mad man

    • jadehorseshoe profile image

      jadehorseshoe 6 years ago

      Another Excellent Lens.

    • profile image

      moonlitta 7 years ago

      Madness in people is dangerous, madness in emperors is ruining. Wonderful lens.

    • profile image

      SandyPeaks 7 years ago

      Extreme sleep deprivation can cause personality changes, but spoiled upbringing doesn't help! He didn't have too many restraining influences on him either!

    • FanfrelucheHubs profile image

      Nathalie Roy 7 years ago from France (Canadian expat)

      I remember watching this amazing TV series "I Claudius" where Caligula was played by John Hurt. The episodes around Caligula were pretty unsettling. He was clearly mad, but worst than any others? I don't think so. His mentor Tiberius was quite dangerous too.

    • profile image

      reasonablerobby 7 years ago

      What a nasty piece of work. I seem to remember John Hurt playing him in a British TV series.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Nice lens. I particularly like the video.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Well done.

    • mythphile profile image

      Ellen Brundige 7 years ago from California

      A good introduction to "little boots" with some excellent video and secondary links for (I suspect) students to find out more.

      I think honestly there have been a lot of horrific leaders -- not just Hitler; I'm not sure Caracalla was any better, and I'm sure there could be arguments made on both sides for Marius & Sulla -- but the scary thing about Caligula is that he just went mad. The empire concept was still fairly new and ad hoc, and Rome really had no way to deal with an emperor losing his marbles save by assassination. Not that many solutions were found for that sort of problem until the modern era. I always feel a little sorry for Caligula. He was daddy's darling, spoiled rotten, raised to be a bit of a Draco Malfoy type kid, but I don't think he would've been all that bad an emperor if he hadn't quite literally been brain damaged by that illness.

      Not that we know. The sources are very sensationalized, and at this point we're almost sifting between historical novel versions rather than reality. Anyway, yikes. I suppose "mental illness cased by high fever" does not alleviate the fact that he really did and caused some awful things before they popped him off. Yet I still find other leaders -- less brain damaged, more calculated -- to be more despicable.

    • gigifitrakis profile image

      gigifitrakis 7 years ago

      I love the historical information presented in Squidoo because they are enriched by colorful photos and the texts are so well designed and often so well written that they attract the visitor to read them. This is a very informative lens about Calligula and provides us with many information on the Roman Empire. I hopes that you will find my lens on greek mythology as interesting as the current one.


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